Naples: Just Do It

06/06/2013 04:55 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

I just spent two days in Naples, and loved it. It's one of the most fertile, churning, exuberant, and fun cities in all of Europe. And the entire time, I wondered, "Where are the tourists?" Of course, Naples has a reputation of being dangerous. But I think that any reasonable traveler exercising good common sense will feel comfortable here -- and will be well rewarded for their adventurous spirit.

It seems the people of Naples are endlessly enthusiastic about pizza and the fine differences between different pizzerias. My friend Vincenzo was emoting about his version of the best pizza: "Melts into your mouth, goes straight through the throat and into the stomach. It does not need to be chewed." I turned my camera on him, and he clammed up a bit...but even so, he gave a sense of the Neapolitan love affair with pizza. The people of Naples claim pizza was born here, and it is clearly the best in Italy.

Naples' street plan is 2,500 years old, dating back to the days when it was the Greek city Neapolis. And for all those centuries, an arrow-straight, razor-thin street has cut the city in two. It's Spaccanapoli, which means "Split Naples." Exploring it, you become part of this vivid and exuberant stripe of life.

If exploring Naples, you can just park yourself on a street corner and watch the world roll by -- much of it on motorbikes. It's not unusual to see families of three, or even four, all sharing the family vehicle.

A big joy when researching a guidebook chapter on Naples is sorting through all the great restaurants. Characteristic mom-and-pop places cater to locals, serving family recipes at family-friendly prices. My criteria for a good restaurant: in a low-rent location; busy with locals; and with a small, handwritten menu in one language. (It's small because they're selling everything they're cooking; it's handwritten because it's shaped by what's fresh today in the market; and it's in one language because they cater to locals rather than tourists). Here, pastas and secondi are just €6 (about $8) each. Everything's delicioso -- and I speak from experience.

Naples is a busy cruise port, and the terminal is right in the town center. Adventurous cruise travelers can hop off their ship and venture directly into the urban jungle. I met this American couple deep in Naples, having a great time...with ripped-out pages from my Mediterranean Cruise Ports guidebook. Their big smiles and the way they were using those pages made my day.